CMC has a serious problem with originality. For whatever reason, our school tends to nudge people in certain directions, and onto certain paths. We see this in the way the career inform offers mostly consulting and finance listings, and in the way that undecided majors often transform into Econ—fill-in-the-blank majors.
But one place that I didn’t expect to experience this pigeonholing was within the Economics department itself.
During registration, rising seniors (let me stress—seniors, who pick classes before everyone else) were hard-pressed to find suitable higher level economics electives. This coming fall, there are 346 seats allocated to Level-II economics electives (BA/MA included). Of these 346 seats, 238 are allocated to classes related to accounting or finance, while only 108 comprise classes without a direct link to these fields. This semester, the breakdown is almost identical. There are 252 seats in accounting/finance Level IIs, and only 94 seats for other economics electives.
At this point, this isn’t even a demand-side problem. The classes that everyone was dying to take, judging by how quickly they filled up, were Bjerk’s Poverty, Inequality and Discrimination course , and Flory’s Economic Development course.
At least 22 people are on the waiting list for the only section of Economic Development, which is a rapidly growing field desperately in need of CMC’s best and brightest. The same inundation of PERMs occurred the last time the class was taught. So why was there only one section offered? Because we only have one development-focused economist. And, tragically, this same economist will go on sabbatical in the spring of 2017 to the University of Chicago, possibly for the entire year, and will not be replaced in the meantime. So, what choice do we have as economics majors when the only electives available to us are those in finance and accounting? Why do I, someone who is loudly and openly uninterested in all things finance, find myself sitting in Binay’s Corporate Finance class twice a week?
This is why a petition, led by our own Sidd Mandava, began to circulate and gain traction among Econ majors and faculty alike.
We write this letter in response to the difficulties that many of us faced during course registration for the Fall 2016 semester. In particular, the lack of higher level economics classes available meant that these courses filled up very quickly, even for seniors, and that we are left with a lack of other suitable alternatives. Having taken most of our major requirements, we are looking to take courses in applied micro and macro that will both prepare us for future work experience and expand our understanding of the role that economics plays in the world.
However, when Economic Development, Money & Banking, and Poverty, Inequality, and Discrimination fill up during the first few registration slots at the same time that classes like Labor Economics, Law and Economics, Public Choice Economics, etc. are not offered, we lose the opportunity to engage with the economics field on a broader level. Many of these courses have similarly filled up in past years, and, as an additional measure of student interest, attract a significant number of PERM requests whenever they are offered. We have seen how the department has increased the number of accounting and finance classes in response to student demand these past few semesters, and we want to stress that we also have a strong interest in exploring a greater variety of economics courses.
We hope the department is able to hire more economics faculty, so as to relieve the burden on our professors who are currently having to teach mostly intro sections, leaving them unable to teach upper-level electives. And if there is anything that we, as students, can do to support the department in these matters, know that we are able and willing to assist.
As Sidd mentions, CMC is aware that this problem is one of understaffing. Every Econ professor will tell you that the lack of upper-level electives does not come from a lack of interest in offering them, but from the immense demand for the core classes (50, macro, and micro), which require an army of faculty to teach. This problem could be remedied by an increase in class size for these core classes, but that raises its own issues. For instance, how can we maintain the appeal of a small liberal arts college if our economics classes are just as large as those taught at state universities?
Now, I know that suggesting more funding for additional hiring in the Econ department is contentious. It is rumored that Chodosh wants to pull money from RDS, and for good reason. (The administration has already reduced the amount of tuition assistance given to Robert Day BA Scholars.) It is also evident that other departments are understandably upset by the amount of capital that CMC puts into our economics program at the expense of other majors. But I would like to make a plea regardless.
Redirecting funds from the Economics department, or preventing the department from hiring more faculty, does not directly affect the Economics majors interested in accounting or finance—there are ample classes for them already. It does hurt the Economics major like me—someone who wants to take my economic background and apply it to solving the world’s poverty problems, existing at the intersection of economics and public policy. It hurts the non-Economics majors who would take classes like Bjerk’s and Flory’s, who want to expand their knowledge of a field outside of their own, but don’t see enough of these classes being offered, or enough spots in them. Finally, it hurts the finance and accounting students who would be better off with a well-rounded education in the field. I worry about the future hedge fund manager who has never been asked to think about those who struggle to meet their basic needs.
In essence, it hurts the exact people of whom we need more. CMCers can be more than leaders in the executive board room. We can be leaders in politics, in social entrepreneurship, and in the millions of other less lucrative applications of economics. And, in fact, we need to be. But we can only do so with the proper training. And that is at the discretion of what our economics department provides.
 Due to pressure from the petition below, as of 4/26/16, the department has added a second section of Bjerk’s Poverty class, reflected in the number of seats (which rose from 90 to 108). Even though this is a good short-term step, this is a band-aid over what is a much larger problem.